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Bad judgment: On honoring Franklin Pierce

March 05. 2013 6:17PM

Franklin Pierce was elected President of the United States in 1852. He also was born and raised in New Hampshire. Those two factors alone seem to be the motivating force behind House Bill 576, a bill to have the State of New Hampshire declare Nov. 23, Pierce's birthday, Franklin Pierce Day. Those factors are not nearly enough to justify such an honor.

Winning the presidency certainly is a notable accomplishment. But it is what one does with that office that determines whether honors and glory are later justified.

Franklin Pierce started his political career promisingly enough. He developed an affection for John Locke and Andrew Jackson and was bold enough to volunteer for military service in the Mexican War (during which he twice fainted after being injured by his own horse).

Alas, Pierce was no Jackson or James K. Polk. Elected to the U.S. Senate, he resigned after the Whigs won a majority. Chosen as the Democratic nominee for President by party stalwarts in the proverbial "smoke-filled room," he won the White House on the popularity of the party Andrew Jackson had built. Once in office, he quickly unraveled Jackson's legacy.

Jackson was the most fervent of unionists. Though a Tennessean and a slave owner, he despised the hare-brained doctrines of secession and nullification and saved the Republic in the 1830s by making clear that he was willing to go to war to preserve it. Pierce fell in with the wrong factions in the Democratic Party and became both tool and spokesman for noxious "states' rights" arguments Jackson found appalling. His mishandling of the slavery question and national expansion reignited dormant embers, the flames of which later engulfed the nation.

Noting Pierce's role as a willing pawn of slavery interests, the House Executive Departments and Administration Committee has voted - unanimously - against HB 576, saying it "was unwilling to perpetually honor such a person." Those words might have been more biting had the authors encountered Pierce's criticism of Abraham Lincoln, made July 4, 1863, the day after Gettysburg: "How futile are all our efforts to maintain the Union by force of arms."

The man who would have dismantled the Union to avoid war has a statue and portrait at the State House and a highway named after him. Let the state give him no further honors.

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